Apple’s movie trailer site is among the sites I visit regularly to keep track of this, that and the other. I am a sucker for anything visual and these days movie and even documentary trailers have become rather innovative. A couple of days ago I found the trailer of a documentary called “Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil”. The name intrigued me because it sounded familiar. It felt as if I might have written about Bosch. A quick search of my blog revealed that I indeed had, on July 1, 2013. The post was titled “Admiring ‘The Pedlar’ by Jheronimus Bosch.”
Bosch’s bizarre images had captivated me then and struck me that they lent themselves rather well to a film or a documentary. Three years hence director Pieter van Huystee has made a 90-minute documentary which is receiving strong critical notices.
The synopsis of the documentary says this: “In 2016, the Noordbrabants Museum in the Dutch city of Den Bosch held a special exhibition devoted to the work of Hieronymus Bosch, who died 500 years ago. This late-medieval artist lived his entire life in the city, causing uproar with his fantastical and utterly unique paintings in which hell and the devil always played a prominent role. In preparation for the exhibition, a team of Dutch art historians crisscrosses the globe to unravel the secrets of his art. They use special infrared cameras to examine the sketches beneath the paint, in the hope of discovering more about the artist's intentions. They also attempt to establish which of the paintings can be attributed with certainty to Bosch himself, and which to his pupils or followers. The experts shuttle between Den Bosch, Madrid and Venice, cutting their way through the art world's tangle of red tape, in a battle against the obstacle of countless egos and conflicting interests. Not every museum is prepared to allow access to their precious art works.”
Here is what I wrote three years ago:
Five hundreds and thirteen years after it was painted, Jheronimus Bosch’s master painting ‘The Pedlar’ has come as a revelation this morning. I neither knew of Bosch nor ‘The Pedlar’ until this morning and but for my obsessive visits to the Google Art Project, I would not have discovered them.
‘The Pedlar’, on the face of it, seems like a man peddling things. And he probably was in Bosch’s preliminary imagination. However, a description in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, which is the only museum in the Netherlands with a collection of paintings by Bosch, says, “This vagabond or pedlar with mismatched shoes is symbolic of man on his path through life. He is a kind of 'Everyman' a popular late 15th century moral tale. He represents the 'homo viator', the pilgrim who goes through life weighed down by the baggage of his earthly existence. He suffers his lot along a path full of temptations.”
As I always do, I have zoomed in and sliced the painting down to various corners in order to bring out fantastic details of Bosch’s vision.
In the first frame, apart from the pedlar’s evocative expression, notice details such as his stubble, hair, creased up neck and so on.
In this frame see the man urinating and also notice the stream. Also, don’t miss what looks like a raccoon hide hanging from his wicker basket.
This one has a woman peering out of a window, one of whose shutters has come unhinged. The woman’s expression is one of nervous curiosity at seeing the pedlar. Check out the man and woman in the doorway engaged in something urgent even as a caged bird looks on.
This frame, of course, has been a matter of much comment because it shows mismatched shoes. I am also struck by the dog’s expression. (See below)
And finally, the owl and woodpecker complete the picture.
Of course, there are other details such as a rooster and a bunch of pigs as well as cattle and people in the distance.
P.S.: After watching the documentary’s trailer I revisited the Google Art Project site to look at Bosch’s work again. It dramatically refreshed my memory about how stunningly weird Bosch’s visual imagination was. Just a couple of instances should be enough to illustrate that.
“The Temptation of Saint Antony” (1520/1530), a triptych on an oak panel contains some disturbing but captivating images. An accompanying description says that the panel “is an allegory of the perdition which reigns over the earth, symbolized by those whose behavior or social associations are reprehensible.” Let me just cite a couple pieces from that panel.
For reasons I do not understand fish appears to be a preferred means of transport, either in the air or in the water. There is also some preponderance of marine life.
Take the image below, for instance. It has a figure in an armor riding one fish while carrying another one toward a another figure on top of a giant frog with some bizarre creature emerging from underneath.
Or this one where a bird appears to be attacking a grotesquely deformed man in a boat.
I read that Bosch became so popular in his lifetime that there were several forgeries made of his panels. As of now only 25 or so have been authenticated as having been created by him.
If course, Bosch was not all about foreboding, doomsday visions. His “Saint John the Baptist in the Desert” painting features St. John meditating in a richly imagined landscape. I was struck by the brilliant color of his robe as well the detail in the flora.